Thom Gunn's “Duncan”

Wendy Lesser

in At the Barriers

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780226890432
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226890371 | DOI:
Thom Gunn's “Duncan”

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The specificity of the dead was very important to Gunn, and this is why he was a great poet about death. Death, as he knew, is not an impersonal entity that exists in the world, like air or dirt, but a very particular experience that happens to each person in a different way. One does not get used to it. One does not get over it. It is always a shock, even when it is expected. “Lament” may be his greatest poem in this vein, but “Duncan” is surely one of the runner-ups, and they share a number of qualities, including the strictness of their rhyme schemes and their casual use of medical phrases such as “home dialysis.” (His rhyme for that, in “Duncan,” is “his responsiveness.”) . “Duncan”—a poem, it turned out, about his friend and fellow poet Robert Duncan, who had died earlier that year—was marked in a few places with his handwritten emendations.

Keywords: Robert Duncan; dead; Thom Gunn; poe; death

Chapter.  3611 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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